Until I visited in the summer of 2016, Cambodia was a country I knew nothing about. Not one single thing. Upon arriving in Bangkok with my friend Ella, my backpack and a rough outline of a trip we wanted to do until our budget ran out, we decided pretty much straight away that we would start by crossing the border into Cambodia.
We actually spent about two weeks exploring this part of Southeast Asia, but here is the itinerary I would recommend for a one week trip to this beautiful country…
Whether you’re arriving my plane or overland, a great starting point is Siem Reap in the northwest of Cambodia. Orientate yourself around this quaint little town and visit the famous night market for incredible street food (be careful though!), drinks in backpacker bars and live music. Arrange with your hostel/hotel to visit Angkor Wat the following morning.
Get up at 4:30am and meet your tuk tuk driver who you hopefully booked the night before! They will take you to buy tickets for Angkor Wat and arrive in time for sunrise, at around 6am. This is so worth the early start, I promise.
Spend the morning looking around the temples, and take a lunch break in a shaded spot until the hottest part of the day is over. Our tuk tuk driver took us to an onsite ‘restaurant’ (aka a tent and a roughly put together barbeque) and we relaxed in amongst the temples and jungle surroundings until it was cool enough to explore again.
Take a day trip to Battambang and ride the bamboo train! We stayed here for a night which I really wouldn’t recommend, unless you can afford to stay in a nice hotel in a safe part of town. We weren’t so lucky and found Battambang to be a bit of a dump… but we still enjoyed the weird but wonderful ride on the rickety old bamboo train – just be prepared for locals to try to sell you mangoes and handmade jewellery, it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
Spend the evening at the bat caves, a site also known as the Killing Caves, as Khmer soldiers took prisoners to be killed and thrown into the pits. Although this doesn’t sound particularly cheerful, it was incredible to see millions of bats flying out of the cave in perfect formation at sunset, so worth the excursion!
Get a bus to Phnom Penh – the journey takes around 6 hours so try to get on an early one. If you have time upon arrival, arrange a tuk tuk to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre and learn about the brutal recent history of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the 1980s. Alternatively, save this for tomorrow and spend the evening at your hostel/hotel.
Please be careful in Phnom Penh – I don’t know how much has changed in the past few years, but when we arrived there had been some attacks on backpackers and drug and alcohol related deaths – therefore we didn’t venture out into the city or check out the night life. As a result, I recommend just one night in the capital to learn about the country’s history and check out the important sites.
If you didn’t already, visit the Genocidal Centre, also known as the killing fields. Do this as early as possible so that you can be finished by lunch time/early afternoon. Many tuk tuk drivers will also take you to S21 prison as a sort of day trip package – both sites are heartbreaking to visit but probably the most grounding and important places I’ve ever visited, much like Auschwitz in Poland. Make sure you pay for the audio tour for both of these places as it makes it a thousand times more meaningful.
After this emotional day, get on a bus to Sihanoukville on the coast. The journey will take around 4/5 hours so when you arrive, check in and grab some hearty western food at one of the beachside restaurants.
Catch the ferry to Koh Rong island! If you have time the evening before, book tickets in advance. If not, wake up early and be the first one at the pier!
The ferry ride isn’t long so you’ll have the whole day to soak up the beautiful white sand beaches and crystal waters. The island is tiny and the wifi is terrible so enjoy a day offline reconnecting with nature and jump on a boat trip to go snorkelling and beach hopping around the island. We spent hours on a boat that supplied up with freshly barbequed fish, bottles of rum, an epic beach party, and ended with us floating in the shallows marvelling at glowing plankton after it had gone dark!
Spend the morning enjoying your coconuts on the beach before catching the ferry back to the mainland. From here, make your way back to the airport or move on to the next place on your bucket list…
I hope this itinerary is helpful! Of course it’s super flexible so you could add extra places to visit or extend your stay in certain places!